Essential Information About Pregnancy & Nutrition

Why is nutrition important during pregnancy? 

Nutrition is about eating a healthy and balanced diet so your body gets the nutrients that it needs. Nutrients are substances in foods that our bodies need so they can function and grow. They include carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and water. 

When you’re pregnant, nutrition is more important than ever. You need more of many important nutrients than you did before pregnancy. Making healthy food choices every day will help you give your baby what they need to develop. It will also help make sure that you and your baby gain the proper amount of weight. 

Do I have any special nutrition needs now that I am pregnant? 

You need more folic acid, iron, calcium, and vitamin D than you did before pregnancy, 

  • Folic acid is a B vitamin that may help prevent certain birth defects. Before pregnancy, you need 400 mcg (micrograms) per day. During pregnancy and when breastfeeding, you need 600 mcg per day from foods or vitamins. It is hard to get this amount from foods alone, so you need to take a supplement that contains folic acid. 
  • Iron is important for your baby’s growth and brain development. During pregnancy, the amount of blood in your body increases, so you need more iron for yourself and your growing baby. You should get 27 mg (milligrams) of iron a day. 
  • Calcium during pregnancy can reduce your risk of preeclampsia, a serious medical condition that causes a sudden increase in blood pressure. Calcium also builds up your baby’s bones and teeth. 
    • Pregnant adults should get 1,000 mg (milligrams) of calcium a day 
    • Pregnant teenagers (ages 14-18) need 1,300 mg of calcium a day 
  • Vitamin D helps the calcium to build up the baby’s bones and teeth. All women, pregnant or not, should be getting 600 IU (15 mcg) of vitamin D per day. 

Keep in mind that taking too much of a supplement can be harmful. For example, very high levels of preformed vitamin A (retinol)can cause birth defects. Only take vitamins and mineral supplements that your health care provider or Care Team recommends. 

You also need more protein when you are pregnant. Healthy sources of protein include beans, peas, eggs, lean meats, seafood, and unsalted nuts and seeds. 

Hydration is another special nutritional concern during pregnancy. When you are pregnant, your body needs even more water to stay hydrated and support the life inside you. So, it’s important to drink enough fluids every day. Aim for around 3.0 liters (12, 8 oz cups) each day. 

How much weight should I gain during my pregnancy? 

How much weight you should gain depends on your health and how much you weighed before pregnancy. 

The general weight-gain advice below is for women having only one baby. 

Pre-pregnancy BMI (Body Mass Index)Weight Gain 
< 18.5 28–40 lb / 12.7–18.1 kg
18.5–24.9 25–35 lb / 11.3–15.9 kg
25–29.9 15–25 lb / 6.8–11.3 kg
≥ 3011–20 lb / 5.0–9.1 kg

It’s important to gain weight very slowly. The old myth that you’re “eating for two” is not true. During the first 3 months, your baby is only the size of a walnut and doesn’t need many extra calories. The following rate of weight gain is advised. 

  • 1 to 4 pounds total in the first 3 months 
  • 2 to 4 pounds each month from 4 months until delivery 

Check with your health care provider or your Care Team to find out how much weight gain during pregnancy is healthy for you. 

Do I need to eat more calories when I am pregnant? 

How many calories you need depends on your weight gain goals. Your health care provider can tell you what your goal should be, based on things like your weight before pregnancy, your age, and how fast you gain weight. The general recommendations are: 

  • In the first trimester of pregnancy, you probably do not need extra calories 
  • In the second trimester, you usually need about 340 extra calories 
  • In the last trimester, you may need around 450 extra calories per day 

Keep in mind that not all calories are equal. You should primarily eat healthy foods that are packed with nutrients – not “empty calories” such as those found in soft drinks, candies, and desserts. 

What foods should I avoid during pregnancy? 


There is no known amount of alcohol that is safe for a woman to drink during pregnancy. 

Fish that may have high levels of mercury 

Limit white (albacore) tuna to 6 ounces per week. Do not eat tilefish, shark, swordfish, or king mackerel. 

Foods that are more likely to contain germs that could cause foodborne illness 

  • Refrigerated smoked seafood like whitefish, salmon, and mackerel 
  • Hot dogs or deli meats unless steaming hot 
  • Refrigerated meat spreads 
  • Unpasteurized milk or juices 
  • Store-made salads, such as chicken, egg, or tuna salad 
  • Unpasteurized soft cheeses, such as unpasteurized feta, Brie, queso blanco, queso fresco, and blue cheeses 
  • Raw sprouts of any kind (including alfalfa, clover, radish, and mung bean) 

Too much caffeine 

Drinking high amounts of caffeine may be harmful to your baby. Small or moderate amounts of caffeine (less than 200 mg per day) appear to be safe during pregnancy, but more research is needed. 200 mg is the amount found in about 12 ounces of coffee.   

Check with your health care provider or Care Team about whether drinking a limited amount of caffeine is okay for you. 

Source: MedlinePlus, National Library of Medicine